Robert Smith, left, and Joseph Mickens
Police Chief Oscar Lewis speaks during a press conference at the Municipal Complex courtroom Monday. Police are still searching for a suspect in a Thanksgiving morning shooting death outside Trotter Convention Center on Fifth Street.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Columbus City Council voted Tuesday to change the Trotter Convention Center's closing time to 11 p.m. for six months in the wake of a murder outside the facility on Thanksgiving morning. Normal closing time for the Trotter is 1 a.m.
Photo by: Dispatch Staff photo
From left, Bill Gavin, Stephen Jones and Bart Lawrence
November 29, 2017 11:12:04 AM
Trotter Convention Center will be closing early for the next six months.
Columbus City Council voted by a 4-2 margin in a special-call meeting Tuesday morning to temporarily roll back the city owned facility's closing time to 11 p.m. in response to a shooting death outside the Trotter early Thanksgiving morning. The convention center's regular closing time is 1 a.m.
Councilmen Joseph Mickens and Charlie Box, of Wards 2 and 3, respectively, opposed the measure, instead favoring a 10 p.m. closing time at Trotter events where alcohol would be consumed.
Mayor Robert Smith told councilmen the early closing time was a matter of "fairness and consistency," since the council has either negotiated with or forced private businesses to temporarily reduce their hours after shootings occurred on or near their property.
The city also has begun installing surveillance cameras inside the Trotter, Smith said, with plans to install more cameras along Fifth Street to monitor outside the facility.
Trotter director Mike Anderson told The Dispatch after the meeting he believes the early closing time will have only a negligible impact because very few Trotter events run past 11 p.m. anyway.
Even so, Anderson and Smith already have agreed to allow partial refunds to organizers who have already booked events slated to last past the new closing time.
"Once we get past the holidays and the holiday parties we have booked, I don't think this will have much of an impact at all," he said.
Cordell Deshaun Lewis, 27, was shot on Fifth Street just after midnight on Thursday as a crowd was leaving the Citywide Kickback party that began inside the Trotter Wednesday night. Lewis later died at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle.
Four Columbus police officers and two other security guards were working the event, during which alcohol was consumed and multiple scuffles had broken out inside the Trotter.
An event organizer reported about 800 people attended the event.
Columbus Police Department investigators are still seeking a suspect in the case, and Police Chief Oscar Lewis appealed to the public for leads during a press conference Monday afternoon.
"There's no way with that many people around that somebody didn't see something," Lewis said. "Please do the right thing."
Councilmen offer alternatives
Mickens offered a substitute motion Tuesday to close the Trotter at 10 p.m. for events where alcohol is consumed and 11 p.m. when it is not -- a motion that ultimately failed 4-2 with only him and Box supporting it.
First, Mickens said, that is consistent with the closing time the council imposed on Premier Lounge, a private club on 22nd Street North, following a police officer-involved shooting across the street from the club on Nov. 4 that left a Columbus man dead.
It's also the temporary closing time the city negotiated with The Princess downtown earlier this year following a non-fatal shooting outside the nightclub.
The city also negotiated a temporary 5 p.m. closing time with O-Kay Foods on Seventh Avenue North following a March shooting inside the convenience store. The council imposed a months long moratorium on events at Columbus Fairgrounds in response to a non-fatal shooting outside an event there in December 2016.
Moreover, Mickens believes alcohol is the common thread for all those shootings -- an assertion that drew criticism Tuesday from Smith and Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor.
"Was it alcohol or a gun that was the issue here (at the Trotter)?" Taylor asked.
"It was the gun," Smith replied.
"That's what I thought," Taylor said.
In relation to the Trotter, though, Ward 6 Councilmen Bill Gavin suggested offering more leniency, specifically allowing civic clubs and other event bookers exceptions upon request to keep their events going until 1 a.m., especially during the holiday season.
"To me, the problems are usually at private clubs where large numbers of people are gathered," Gavin said. "The Trotter is not a club."
Smith, as well as other council members, disagreed with offering such exceptions.
"We didn't allow the other businesses (where there were shootings) to do that," Smith said. "We didn't even give them that opportunity."
A 'bad precedent'
While Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones supports limiting the Trotter hours to be consistent, he believes the council should never have taken on limiting private business hours in the first place.
"It's a bad road, and we never should have been on that road," Jones said. "We're letting criminals dictate when businesses operate."
Safety is the primary concern, Jones continued, and the city should communicate with businesses about needed safety measures rather than punishing them.
Bart Lawrence, owner of The Princess who spoke to The Dispatch after the meeting, sides with Jones. After the March shooting outside his club, he agreed to certain restrictions and provided an action plan before resuming normal operations. If he hadn't, the council was considering enforcing its own plan upon him.
Lawrence acknowledged the city's good-faith effort to be consistent with the Trotter, but he thinks the mayor and council are now "boxed in" with a poor policy.
"They've set a precedent and I think it's a bad precedent," he said. "I was hoping for a different outcome."
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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